Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Scholar's Tree of UST

The first trees I knew to be native are banaba, supa and dita. When I started to take pics of native trees did not have problems recognizing the 3 trees in UP campus. But the dita trees in UP are not that impressive to photograph. I asked fellow plant enthusiast Ronald Achacoso where I could see full grown dita trees and he quickly pointed out the UST Campus.

I am no stranger to the University of Santo Tomas as 3 of my sisters are UST grads - I actually considered enrolling in the pontifical univesity for my B.S. in Architecture but in the last minute decided that my parents should at least have 1 offspring as U.P. grad. But I could remember wandering around the tree laden grounds when I was still a kid accompanying my sisters in school events. I am trying to paint a mental picture where the dita trees would be but could zoom into my hazy recollection. Ronald said they are all over the campus. I was thinking it might be just a few trees dispersed along with some familiar species like acacia or narra. had to make that trip back to the UST Campus in España and see again for myself where the dita trees could be found. I was expecting that I would a hard time locating them. Turned out they are not that hard to find because they are literally everywhere as Ronald claimed.

Dita is Alstonia scholaris. The common name is devil tree yet I have yet to confirm why it is called such - but maybe attributed to the fact that a lot of its parts are poisonous especially its white resinous sap. In UST, the tree is labeled as scholar's tree, probably because of its scientific name. Margaret Barwick wrote in her Tropical and Subtropical Trees Encyclopedia that dita was botanically named because dita wood is used in the making of blackboards in India, hence scholaris. The dita is common here in the Philippines. I saw specimens growing in the foothills of Zambales as well as in Quezon, Palawan and Panay. The bark is said to be used as herbal, remedy for malaria. The wood is soft and easy to cut and shape.

The dita tree structure is actually ideal for landscape as it is erect and grows layered. The leaves are glossy and grow in a whorl. It also bears occasional small white flower clusters.

The UST ditas are already mature. I am not sure when they were planted in the España campus but I am guessing it was at least 3 decades old. U.S.T actually boasts of a good botanical collection courtesy of their botanical department so it is not actually a surprise to find the good native tree used in their campus planning. If you are eager to find where the ditas could be found in the grounds, they are easy to spot lining the roads leading to the Main Building coming from Governor Forbes and P. Noval streets. Also the sidewalk and road island on Gov. Forbes are lined with this stately tree.

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